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Sector News, 16-20 May 2011

University Guide 2012: Cambridge tops the Guardian league table, Monday, 16 May 2011

Cambridge has taken the top spot in this year's Guardian University Guide league table, breaking its rival Oxford's six-year stint as the UK's leading institution. Oxford came second, and St Andrews third, while the London School of Economics has climbed four places from last year to take fourth place. The University of Warwick dropped from third to sixth. The University Guide is based on data for full-time undergraduates at UK universities. The analysis showed that some universities with low rankings were almost as likely to be planning to charge maximum tuition fees of £9,000 in 2012 as those with high rankings.

University Guide 2012: Want a place? Get the insider knowledge The Guardian, Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Guardian says 633,800 people are chasing 490,000 places to study for undergraduate degrees this September, as they try to get there before tuition fees rise. It has put together a guide to how to secure a place using tips from admissions tutors, including what they really want to see on a Ucas form, advice on how to pick a course, and how following them on Twitter could help you get on the right course.

University Guide 2012: is a degree worth the debt? The Guardian, Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Guardian looks at the facts behind the frontline figures on degree fees, and says potential debt should not put students off university, as there is plenty of financial help available. It points out that students do not have to pay fees upfront, and do not have to start to pay off their debt until their salary hits £21,000. Interest is also pegged to earnings, and after 30 years any remaining debt is automatically cleared.

University? Colleges offer students the best of both worlds The Guardian, Tuesday, 17 May 2011

More and more students are taking their degrees at further education colleges, and this article looks at what they have that universities don’t. It looks at a case study of a student who left a university course she was unhappy with and is now taking a foundation degree at college, where she has more than double the contact time with tutors, and pays less than half the tuition fees she paid at university. Smaller classes are also mentioned as a benefit by another college HE student. More than 260 colleges currently teach 160,000 students on higher education courses, and early indications are that after 2012 they will still offer value for money, with just 17 out of 124 directly funded colleges saying they want to charge more than £6,000.

Fears that Willetts' hellish week may leave debate in limbo  THE, 19 May 2011

Vice-chancellors have warned that the future of higher education is being put in jepoardy at a time of unprecedented change because coalition politics and “knee jerk” reactions to policy proposals are stifling debate. They voiced their concerns after a furore last week over an idea floated by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, who suggested removing number controls for "off-quota" home students who can fund their tuition fees up front.Within hours, he was forced to issue a statement insisting that the proposal would apply only to students sponsored by companies or charities. Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that although the government's higher education plans were "in a mess" after it underestimated the cost of taxpayer-funded student loans, it was crucial that there was reasoned debate to find solutions.

 War possible as USS battle is lost  THE, 19 May 2011

The UK's biggest lecturers' union is threatening "sustained and seriously disruptive" industrial action to derail university admissions and examinations after losing a bitter battle over pensions. The University and College Union will again ballot members for industrial action over the Universities Superannuation Scheme to gauge their willingness to sacrifice pay in lengthy strikes starting this summer. The USS joint negotiating committee favoured the employers’ plans, including phasing out final salary benefits, over the UCU’s. In a separate move affecting new universities, the UCU will also take joint action with the teaching unions over the government's planned changes to the Teachers' Pensions Scheme, which also caters for academics in post-92 institutions.

Slay the middle-class shibboleth: academy has become a 'rite of passage' THE, 19 May 2011

The Demos think tank argues that going to university has become a "middle-class shibboleth" that reinforces social divisions and prevents the poor from accessing higher education to improve their life chances. Matt Grist and Julia Margo from Demos say that to remedy the situation, degree-awarding powers must be liberalised and the system of delivery overhauled to enable excellent teaching to rise to the surface and benefit people who may not be attracted to traditional degrees. Their research is to be published by the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning next week and is called Blue Skies: New thinking about the future of higher education.

Visa rules sparked price cuts THE, 19 May 2011

A senior immigration official has claimed universities are engaged in a “closing-down” sale before new visa restrictions are introduced in a bid to fill places. Jeremy Oppenheim, director for temporary migration at the UK Border Agency, told the Higher Education Futures Forum conference in London last week that there had been a rush of foreign students applying before the new, more stringent rules came in on 21 April, with 11,000 students submitting documents on 20 April to say they’d been accepted on a UK course, and four days later just 300 submitting. He said some establishments had cut masters course prices dramatically.

'Good girls' don't rise to the top  THE, 19 May 2011

Female academics would be aided by the introduction of gender-blind peer review and an end to the culture of compliant "good girls" in higher education, a conference has heard. The argument was set out last week at a British Federation of Women Graduates colloquium on "female leadership in higher education", at which Elaine Thomas, vice-chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts, paid tribute to the work of "Through the Glass Ceiling" network, which was set up in 1991, but no longer exists. Prof Thomas said things had changed greatly but she now worried they had reached a plateau. Teresa Rees, pro vice-chancellor (research) at Cardiff University, said that across Europe 45 per cent of PhDs are done by women, yet 20 per cent of male academics are top-grade professors while the corresponding rate for women is only 7 per cent.

UK 'consumer' culture causes global concerns THE, 19 May 2011

Hundreds of academics, writers and other campaigners from across the world have signed a "manifesto" calling on the coalition government and UK universities to reverse policies that they say are leading to the commercialisation of higher education. The itemised petition, created as part of a new book by two academics on the impact of the government's reforms, calls for public spending to be brought in line with other European countries and asks for an end to the culture of "customer satisfaction". The book, The assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance, is written by Dr Des Freedman, a reader in communications and cultural studies at the University of London, and Michael Bailey, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Essex.

School swallows merger medicine  THE, 19 May 2011

The only higher education institution in the UK that is devoted to the study of pharmacy is to become part of University College London after merger proposals that have opened deep rifts between academics were approved by governors. The School of Pharmacy’s union with UCL was described as a “wonderful opportunity” by the School’s dean, Anthony Smith, who said it would put it in the best possible position to tackle the challenges posed by funding reforms and the research excellence framework. Ijeoma Uchegbu, professor of pharmaceutical nanoscience at the School of Pharmacy and branch secretary for the University and College Union, said the merger was an illustration of collapsing confidence among the UK academy leaders as uncertainty about the future had led them to "lose confidence in their institutions' ability to thrive".


The well-being of nations  THE, 19 May 2011

Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick, considers recent moves in economics, famously the most dismal of sciences, to take the happiness and psychological health of the population as seriously as a country's GDP. He says looking at the economics of happiness started in the 1970s in California and was revived in the UK in the 1990s. Oswald looks at how human happiness and well-being can be measured, and what researchers do with the data. He includes a diagram showing there is a strong life cycle pattern to happiness, with the lowest point being in people’s 40s, and climbing again afterwards. Findings also show women are generally happier, as are people with lots of friends, those on higher incomes, and those who are educated.

The Arts, THE 19 May 2011

In Angst with Rose-Tinted Ray-Bans Duncan Wu reviews the film Win Win, and says a high-calibre cast overcome a contrived storyline about a fresh start in middle age. Peter Hill, an artist, writer, and Professor of Fine Art at RMIT University, Melbourne, in The Art of War, says there is still a place for artists who are able to portray the human cost of war, even in the era of 24-hour news. Gary Day, principal lecturer in English at De Montfort University, reviews Wonderland: The Trouble with Love and Sex, a TV programme which explored Relate’s work with an animated approach. He said any suspicion that the drawings would trivialise people’s problems by turning them into a cartoon was quickly dismissed. In fact it showed the good work of Relate, though he notes its funding is to be cut.

Government may pay firms to hire apprentices TES, 20 May 2011

The government has admitted that firms may be paid to take on apprentices. In its response to the Wolf review, published last week, the Department for Education argues that offering cash to employers “can be an effective way to encourage them to take on apprentices”. The Skills Minister John Hates had previously rebuffed calls for the Government to pay for new apprentices. The Chancellor George Osborne announced in March that 50,000 extra apprenticeship places were to be created, but at the time Mr Hayes said their wages should be paid by employers and that they must be “real jobs”. Association of Learning Providers chief executive Graham Hoyle said it was not clear how any extra Government funding for apprenticeships would be distributed.

Merger hopefuls: take a different tack TES, 20 May 2011

Colleges are being discouraged from pursuing mergers as the Government tries to promote new types of federations as an alternative way of cutting costs. One college hit by this is Kingston College which had proposed merging with Carshalton College. The plan was put on hold earlier this year and governors said they had been given a “distinct policy steer” that the Government wanted to encourage other kinds of partnerships. They have now announced they will form a “hard federation” in which they will keep two governing bodies, to meet Government concerns about local accountability, but will appoint a single principal and management team. An analysis of mergers by consultancy W3 Advisory showed that colleges only improved their financial position in about half of cases post-merger.

Newcastle's post-EMA support scheme could be worth £1m TES, 20 May 2011

Newcastle College is going all out to encourage poorer students to enroll despite the abolition of the EMA, with the most comprehensive student support scheme announced yet. Students who meet the old criteria for the allowance could receive up to £600 a year from college funds – about half the maximum under the previous scheme. The Newcastle College Maintenance Allowance comes in addition to the Government’s new bursaries and could mean an investment of up to £1 million from the college, based on current numbers of eligible students. About 40 per cent of the college’s students currently receive EMA.

'He has inspired millions': adult education honour for Attenborough TES, 20 May 2011

Sir David Attenborough is the first winner of an Outstanding Contribution to Adult Learning Award from adult education body Niace. The broadcaster and naturalist was chosen for more than 50 years’ work explaining the natural world to generations of Britons. He collected the award from business secretary Vince Cable at a ceremony in Westminster on Monday, as part of the celebrations for the 20th Adult Learners’ Week.

Prisons plan: an unfair cop for providers TES, 20 May 2011

As part of the government’s “payments by results agenda” it was announced this week by the Department for Business, innovation and Skills and the Ministry of Justice that learning providers working in prisons may only receive full payment if prisoners get a job when they are released and do not reoffend. Joe Shamash, policy adviser at the City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development, a research and development organisation for vocational education, warned that the focus on results could encourage providers to concentrate resources on the highest achieving prisoners, at the expense of their less able peers.